Microcerotermes spp “The Misunderstood Wanderers”
Threat Level: 2/10
There are many common species of Microcerotermes, and they are amongst the most visible termites in suburbia and on bushwalks.
Ever wondered who constructed that spectacular mudball on the tree in the park? If its rough and lumpy, dripping stalactites, or generally light brown in colour these are probably the guys (proper identification should always be carried out by a qualified pest controller or better yet an entomologist.) Ironically, when you pull it apart there will be no queen (alates may be present depending on the time of the year). She’ll be nearby in a mound, that is sometimes easily found and on other occasions submerged or well hidden.
Despite their fearsome reputation, termites of all types play an important role in the environment. They take virtually indigestible cellulose and break it down via gut bacteria, thus returning it to the biomass. In some regards they play an earthworm like role, breaking down leaf litter and improving the soil. This is very much the case with Microcerotermes species.
Microcerotermes species rarely attack homes!
They can and do attack timber, albeit very slowly. They prefer old and weathered timber. Microcerotermes are found on many fence structures, poles and retaining walls with their distinctive shallow, spidery, mud tubes. Removing the tubing will reveal largely superficial damage, it would take them prolonged time to do much damage of significance.
Generally Microcerotermes species rarely attack homes. When they do, structural issues normally aren’t the problem. Instead they take a fancy to cardboard linings that cover gyprock (perhaps this is a close analogue to their natural food of decomposing vegetation) causing lines to appear. More rarely, they will attempt to build an arboreal (tree) style nest in a roof cavity or on an external wall. In the western suburbs most commonly, they will build exploratory tubes up external brickwork and other wall facings.
Because they aren’t nearly as invisible as the more destructive kinds, Microcerotermes usually attract attention long before they become a nuisance.
We like to discourage destruction of arboreal nests in trees (even if colony destruction via the mound or treatment at the base of the tree is required). Many native animals use extinct arboreal nests, several types of native birds as well as possums. Microcerotermes are largely beneficial to have around, as long as they leave your house (and your gyprock) alone. Keeping fence palings and posts clear of soil contact will significantly reduce problems outside. In the long run, little can be done to preserve timber retaining walls. Use brick, block or concrete; it may cost a little more but will last three times longer anyway.
One last quirk in the tale. One of our local species, Heterotermes, may be a hijacker. It could be the case that some Microcerotermes nests have been usurped by a more threatening counterpart.
Treatment for Microcerotermes is sometimes necessary, so contact us if in doubt, or for expert identification.